Art College Days

Newport’s Art college is a beautiful building, even in its dilapidated state and one that’s always fascinated me. When I was much younger, I used to wonder what those bohemian-looking students that came and went were up to in there.

I got my chance to find out when I made a documentary for BBC Radio Wales in which I went into the devastated building which had been locked up and ruined for years.

Painter John Selway, Magnum photographer David Hurn and former student Richard Frame joined me as we picked our way through broken glass and abandoned printing and art equipment. They remembered the stories, characters and brought back to life what was a vibrant and creative powerhouse for artists and musicians.

And the music was everywhere. It seemed nearly every student was in a band and the place drew musicians to Newport, amongst them Van Morrison and a young Joe Strummer. This programme features a recording which Richard Frame kept over the years: the first known recording of Joe Strummer playing and singing. You can hear Richard talking about it and hear some of this historic recording in the second part from about 2 mins 20 onwards.

Apart from the Strummer song, I’ve had to edit out all the commercial music which I used for legal reasons. There was a bit of Clash, some Bowie, Velvet Underground and Roxy Music.

BBC Radio Wales has kindly given me permission to upload the documentary on this blog. You can listen to it in three chunks below.

And while you’re listening you can look at these fantastic photos by Jo Haycock who joined us to photograph what we were doing as well as to document the state the building was in. They capture some of the grandeur even amidst the destruction. They’re historic documents in themselves now because the building is in the process of being renovated and finally given a new lease of life as apartments.

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UPDATE: There’s a final chapter to this story here.

14 thoughts on “Art College Days

  1. I am so in love with the old art college. It is the most fantastic building, personally, I think it’s a real shame that they were turned in to flats, it would’ve made a great public building (library or college once again).

    I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this site but they have LOTS of threads of pictures of the art college when it was just lying there empty and unloved.

    1. Yes, it was such a very sad sight. I was privileged to be allowed in before the renovation so that I could see the spools of film, scraps of painting, easels, etc that were scattered around. But it was very sad.

  2. … Well aside from Doc Phot’, Film and Fashion (just), Leighton Andrews and his cronies have destroyed the intellectual legacy of what was the Art College and allowed Mid Glam to appropriate the core courses to satisfy the ‘creative hub’ that is Cardiff Bay, guffaw!. A political folly that will not work, creativity does not thrive where there is money, creativity thrives where there is nothing else…

  3. I enjoyed three halcyon years there in the 1970’s and it is great that the ‘old green boob’ now has a new lease of life.

  4. The old Art College gets under your skin. I went there when I was just 16. in 1968. Newport compared to Pembrokeshire was a huge contrast but I loved the dirt and grime and earthiness of this dock city. I have so many memories that one day I must write it all down. A lot of them were from the college canteen where we had sit-ins, band playing and even pantomimes. I was a chorus girl in Cinderella in about 1970. I made all the costumes and I know one of the film students filmed it or took photos. I wish they would turn up one of these days.

  5. 1961. A new arrival from a traditional grammar school, I found the building both grand and confusing. One wing housed all girls doing various typing and secretarial courses, whilst the bowels seemed to be occupied by engineers and lathes etc.Sculpture was housed above a primary school in Bolt Street, a No 9 bus trip away. This was all so different,no uniforms to wear,no daily assembly, and girls to talk to!!

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